Flags as symbols can evoke feelings of loyalty and passion, and the Confederate flag certainly does this. While there are those who defend it, many today see it as a symbol of hate, while still another group neither defend it nor calls for its annihilation. But what should the citizens of God’s Kingdom think about it?
I offer five Biblical thoughts for members of Chi Alpha regarding the Confederate flag. I suggest we think through these five points and use them to judge ourselves and make sure that we are living out our vision of being a “movement of college-age men and women earnestly following Jesus.”
What I have to say will be too much for some and too little for others. My desire is not to enter into a political conversation or even to offer my opinion, but to direct us to Biblical truths that have a bearing on this discussion. I invite you to prayerfully consider these:
1. DO MY ACTIONS GLORIFY GOD?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
If my brother or sister is offended by my actions, I am not bringing glory to God. If you ask an African American brother or sister if they are offended by the displaying of the Confederate flag the vast, vast majority will say, “yes”. If all truth were told, the flying of the Confederate flag from a vehicle often elicits fear in our African American brothers and sisters.
The proud display of the Confederate flag sends a message to our African American brothers and sisters, whether intended or not, and the message is offensive. If we are knowingly offending our brothers and sisters in Christ we are not glorifying God.
2. GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).
Americans love to talk about their rights. Don’t get me wrong. I am very thankful for the liberties we experience in this country. My family, like all American families (except Native Americans), immigrated to the United States of America. We immigrated here primarily because of a lack of liberty in our home country. Liberty is something all believers can be thankful for, support, and work to preserve, but it is not something we can allow to shape our perspective.
The truth is, as Christians, we have no rights. We have the privilege of worshiping Christ and participating in his mission. We are the salt of the earth. We are a city set on a hill. We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us. In other words, we don’t represent ourselves, but our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot glorify God if we do not first give up our rights, deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. Follow him. That’s just another way of saying “get on his side.”
3. EMBRACE SIMPLE TRUTHS
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (Gen 1:27).
From one man he made all the nations (Acts 17:26).
God’s perspective is clearly revealed in Scripture. Humanity is created in his image. We are sacred beings. Transgressing against any element of our sacred creation is sin. Racism in all forms from prejudice, to bigotry, to using our power to oppress or withhold opportunities from those we look down upon—is all sin.
All nations (Greek ethnos, i.e. ethnic groups) are biologically related. We are not separate species, but one humanity. Anything or anyone who teaches contrary these simple truths are not teaching the gospel or the Bible.
Here’s another simple truth that you may or may not like. One of the reasons the Confederacy was created to was preserve the owning of African slaves. Article I Section 9(4) of the Confederate Constitution states, “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” This is just one of several articles related to ensuring the enslavement of Africans continue in perpetuity. The flag that we commonly refer to the Confederate flag today was the second one adopted by the Confederacy was based on the battle flag that had become quite popular. To those held in slavery, this was most certainly a symbol of oppression, violence, helplessness, and an affirmation that they were subhuman.
As a result of the Civil War the Confederate flag has almost always been displayed by those bent on intimidation or committing violence against African Americans. It is intrinsically linked to racism and white supremacy. From the Civil Rights movement to the Charlottesville marches, anyone spouting white supremacy, always seems to carry a Confederate flag. This is an association that cannot be denied. It is a simple truth. Neither white supremacy, black supremacy, nor Cuban supremacy is Biblical. The only supreme one for a Christian is Christ himself. The rest of us are all equal at the cross—equally lost and in need of redemption. Once we give up our rights and focus on glorifying God, it is much easier to embrace simple truths.
4. VALUE OTHERS ABOVE YOURSELVES
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:2-8).
Even if I could distance the Confederate flag from its bloody history of violence, intimidation, and enslavement, there are millions in our country and in the Body of Christ who cannot. These descendants of slaves have grown up all their lives hearing the story of the struggle for freedom and those who violently opposed them, often under the protection of the law and with the affirmation of the church. I have heard first-hand from dear friends traumatic events they themselves experienced.
Love is central to the Christian ethic. We cannot distance ourselves from the suffering of others, especially those within the body. So this flag cannot just be filed under, “everyone has the right to do what they want.” We must care, and our care should lead to action. The kind of action described in the Sermon on the Mount when it says, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Valuing others above ourselves requires dying to our rights, embracing simple truths, and choosing our Father’s glory. It means loving even those in error, but loving them enough to point out those errors. It means mourning with those who mourn and showing mercy to those who need it. It means engaging in justice, in a just way. It means being Christ’s ambassadors, not working our own agenda but his mission and living out the ethic of love at every turn.
5. BOAST IN THE LORD
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (I Corinthians 1:31).
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:4-8).
In writing this blog post, I read a good bit about the flag and people’s feelings about it. Many claim it has been hijacked by racists and is really only a symbol of Southern pride. Remember, I am speaking here exclusively to followers of Christ. Let us not take pride in symbols of men but in the Lord.
I love Paul’s words here in Philippians. He points to his ethnic heritage, his religious upbringing, and his zealous history, and then he says he considers them all loss for the sake of Christ. Notice how he shows the link between his ethnic pride and his religious zeal that led him to persecute the church. Pride and zeal are dangerous things. Better to boast in the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe our ethnic distinctives are washed away at the cross. Paul continued to be a Hebrew and to live like one. He prayed fervently for his own people and worked to bring them the gospel, though his primary calling was to Gentiles. But he was cautious to not let his ethnic pride to get in the way of knowing Christ.
I am a Cuban. I love being Cuban. I love the externals of my culture: the language, the food, the music. I love the internals: our love of fun, sense of humor, our generosity, and hospitality. I rejoice in the parts of my culture and heritage that bring glory to God, but am ashamed of those that don’t. We think too lightly of adultery. We worship idols, literally giving offerings of food to statues. We could be more meek and gentle. So while I love being who God made me, this is not where I boast. I boast in the Lord. I refuse to listen to adultery jokes (and we have a lot of them). They are not funny to God. He hates adultery. I have offended family members at refusing to hear their jokes, but I am more concerned about glorifying God.
Recently I moved to the South and I am glad to say, there is much I love about it. There are a lot of gospel values in Southern culture. I like the community feel, the hospitality, and the ingenuity. There is much to love here. But none of these erase the terrible history of slavery, Jim Crow, or racism. These are not just part of Southern history, but American history. Identifying these as sinful and shameful is not rewriting history. It is admitting that history needs to be looked at honestly, and it’s ok to say this part was bad and we want to do it differently now.
The church is not perfect. We do not and have not always done right. We cannot change the past, but we can change how we view it and the symbols it has left behind. We need to give up our rights, focus on bringing God’s glory, embrace simple truths, value others more than ourselves, and boast in the Lord. None of these are easily done, but all of them are in the business of citizens of God’s Kingdom.